Bills - Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 - In Committee

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:26): If we were required to tell the absolute truth in advertising, the Greens would have nothing to campaign upon. The Greens try to tell you that the Barrier Reef is dead, and they will be running that in their next election campaign. We know that is an outright lie, but it doesn't stop the Greens from using it. We know as well that the Adani coalmine—which, fortunately, is going ahead and will create jobs in north Queensland and export wealth for all Australians—will have absolutely nothing to do with the Barrier Reef. It's 500 kilometres west of the Great Dividing Range, yet the Greens will be telling you, as they do now with their mates in GetUp!, about how this is killing the Great Barrier Reef—all lies. If this amendment were actually passed, the Greens would have absolutely nothing to campaign upon.

We know that the Greens are trying to tell us as fact that what Australia emits in carbon is destroying the world—destroying the Barrier Reef and everything else. The fact of the matter is that Australia emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. How that can be destroying the world is anyone's guess, but it won't stop the Greens from running a false and misleading campaign about those three issues. Those are just three issues I raise. I'm quite surprised that the Greens are pushing this campaign barrow again. They would have nothing to advertise on at election time if they were required to be factual and to tell the truth.

I acknowledge what the minister has said, that it's really not an issue for the debate before the chamber, but I notice that in the previous amendment Senator Di Natale was talking about encouraging young people to have a vote. Well, Senator Di Natale, I assume you'll be supporting me later on when we work out that there were about 15 to 20 students from James Cook University who turned up at Julia Creek to vote in the very, very closely contested election in Herbert. They were told by the AEC: 'Sorry, we haven't got any envelopes, so you can't vote. It's half past four, but, if you'd like to drive on to the next town, which is two hours away'—which would make it half past six—'you might be able to get a vote there.' If you're worried about young people not voting, there was a group of JCU students on a field trip out west who called into Julia Creek in the next-door electorate, but weren't given the opportunity to have an absentee vote in the electorate of Herbert. There were about 20 of them. Of course, the election in Herbert was decided by 37 votes. I don't know those 20 would have voted, but had they voted one way the election in Herbert would have been different. At the time of the count, the government of Australia hung in the balance—was it going to be a one-seat majority, a two-seat or a no-seat majority?

What was it going to be? Because the AEC were unable to properly give those people a vote, we got a result in Herbert which I think is illegitimate.

Further on that, there was one ward in the Townsville Hospital, where the patients had, from eight o'clock, demanded of nursing staff that they get a vote. They were told time and time again by the hospital staff, who had checked with the AEC, that someone would be around to collect their votes. They kept asking all through the day until just before the poll closed and they were told, 'Sorry, the AEC is too busy to get your vote.' There were, I think, 42 people in that hospital ward, most of whom were registered in the electorate of Herbert and didn't get a vote. Again, I don't know how they would have voted, but they could have voted in one particular way, when the electorate was decided by just 37 votes. You can see how important it is for the AEC to do what it needs to do, and that is to make sure everyone who wants to vote is given a ballot paper.

Senator Di Natale wants the AEC to be working out whether the 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions from Australia is going to kill the Great Barrier Reef. That's what Senator Di Natale wants them to be doing. I can just imagine the AEC saying: 'Sorry, you're wrong Senator Di Natale. That's not factual.' And Senator Di Natale would be down to the High Court at the drop of a hat to try to get the them to rule on it. The proposition that Senator Di Natale puts is just ridiculous.

If Senator Di Natale is interested in democracy and the proper administration of balloting in Australia, he'll join with me at the appropriate time in making sure that everyone who wants to vote—as indicated in the electorate of Herbert, where it would have made a difference—has that opportunity. Unfortunately the AEC was not able to do that. They do a fabulous job usually, but in this instance they failed badly, and they acknowledge that. Hopefully it will never happen again, but the government of Australia could have depended upon the actions of the AEC. That's what the AEC should be doing, rather than trying to work out whether Senator Di Natale's claims that the Barrier Reef is dead are accurate or inaccurate. I know where they would come down in that, but I can just imagine the High Court challenges that would ensue were this amendment to be adopted.

I don't want to prolong this debate, and I know the minister wants to proceed as quickly as we can, but it would be interesting to see what the proposal was once the AEC decided accurately that the Barrier Reef is not dead. Would Senator Di Natale just accept that and say, 'Okay, we'll withdraw all our advertising'? What is the appeal mechanism, I wonder, that Senator Di Natale has in place for the AEC? I support the minister's approach to this amendment and oppose the amendment but urge the bill to be passed.

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